People for Parks joins the City and County of Los Angeles each year to honor the people who make our parks special. This year's heroes are a diverse group ranging in age from teenagers to an 80-something, and serving in facilities from Watts to Northridge. Hats off to them and to all employees and volunteers who go "the extra mile" on the front lines of public recreation.
Meliza Hernandez was "a park rat" growing up, but has a long REAACH now. That would be the Recreation Employment And Achieving Career Happiness program that Hernandez helped create. The County Parks District Manager has prepared at-risk youth in the Pasadena area to find work through REAACH and a summer jobs program. Commitment to public service and the community doesn't get any deeper.
Maria Topete grew up at South L.A.'s Ross Snyder Park, where she began working as a teen volunteer. Today, Topete makes the most of a part-time position at the Elysian Valley Recreation Center in Glassell Park by organizing and mobilizing an activist Teen Club. She learned patience – a quality she says helps when working with teens – working full-time as a Special Education teacher.
Joe Montalto wasn't looking for a job. After a lifetime of work, the octogenarian just wanted to stay busy by volunteering. But the local senior center was looking for a part-time employee to keep equipment operating and Montalto has always been handy. Thanks to Joe, Northridge's Wilkinson Center now purrs like a well-oiled machine.
Steven Katz has been involved with County parks since he was three years old, a depth of experience that has sharpened both his athletic and leadership skills. Katz volunteers for after-school, day camp and sporting events at Rowland Park. He created a Facebook presence for the park, and has set his sights on attending Cal Poly Pomona.
Marco Cruz is a teen for all seasons, from basketball and baseball to football and soccer. Cruz volunteers at the Ramon Garcia Recreation Center in the heart of East L.A. Between setting up and breaking down the equipment at almost every match, he keeps score, officiates, helps coach and sets an example of integrity for younger players.
Eberlin Flores feels fortunate to have grown up in South L.A. since she was 13, when her family arrived from Guatemala. Flores has a passion for volunteering that she hopes to pass on to her six children. She began by preparing healthy meals for the Extreme Teens program at Watts' 109th Street Recreation Center, and now serves more than 150 dinners to needy residents every Friday.
Julio Moreno says a good chess player is always thinking two moves ahead. Moreno, who learned to play chess on the Internet and has been giving lessons to elementary school students, thinks the smart move for him is to go into law enforcement. For four years, the teen has volunteered at Duarte's Pamela Park and the Temple Sheriff Station's youth athletic league.
Charles and Martha House say Hacienda Heights has always been a nice place to hang your hat, but not much in the way of culture. That was then before 1994, when the Houses were attending a concert in the park in a nearby city and decided they would give their neighbors the gift of music. For the past 17 summers, they have staged free concerts ranging from country and mariachi to rock and jazz at Schabarum Regional Park.